A small group of 20 students and community members gathered outside Matthews Hall on Monday evening to reflect on the history of Columbus Day and honor the lives that were lost as a result of colonialism.
The event, organized by Native Americans at Harvard College (NAHC), was held on the site where Harvard’s Indian College once stood.
“It’s just here to serve as a commemoration for Columbus Day,” NAHC President Tia M. Ray ’12 said of the event. “We use this as a way to share our own experiences. It’s not meant to be an attack on Columbus Day.”
Ray spoke at the event while those gathered around her lit candles.
“For me, this is a day of mourning but also a day of celebration,” she said.
Ray also took time to mention the Wampanoag American Indian tribe, who are native to this part of Massachusetts.
“Their struggles were the struggles of many people on this continent,” she said.
Event co-coordinator April A. Sperry ’13 echoed Ray, stressing the positive message of the event.
“We’re not hating on the day,” Sperry said. “We are here to just remember what was instead of to be angry.”
In advertising for the event, NAHC cited the fact that other Ivy League universities have renamed Columbus Day a neutral fall-themed weekend.
But Ray said that NAHC had no plans to advocate for such change at Harvard.
“Institutions are pretty resistant to change,” she said.
While Columbus Day this year passed without incident, the Sigma Chi fraternity received criticism last year for their controversial “Conquistabros and Navajos” themed party.
Sperry says the majority of negative feedback came from the national press rather than Harvard student groups.
“[Sigma Chi] sent us a note of apology,” said Sperry, the social co-chair of NAHC. “It’s been pretty quiet this year.”
Reed R. Snyder ’15 and Zach L. Walters ’15, both residents of Matthews Hall, enjoyed the day’s last rays of sunshine with friends about 15 feet away from the vigil. Snyder, Walter, and their friends did not know what the quietly huddled group outside their dormitory was up to.
“I think it’s narrow minded to look at the situation because yes, as a whole Europe had a negative effect on Native culture, but I think it’s ... hypersensitivity, that’s what I’ll use,” said Reed, when asked about his views on the holiday. “It’s not about celebrating European colonization and domination of the Americas. It’s celebrating [Columbus’s] exploration and quest for discovery.”
For Walters, the situation is not so black and white.
“It’s tough to say because Columbus didn’t actually discover America. It’s a good day to relax and hang out with friends,” he said. “I think it’s a poorly titled holiday.”
—Staff writer Katie R. Zavadski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.